Kayaking is one of the fastest-growing water sports, enjoyed equally by outdoor sport enthusiasts and beginners just looking for the occasional marine outing. It’s the perfect eco-friendly way to explore local waterways, and an excellent low-impact exercise that improves cardiovascular health and muscle strength. With myriad body styles to suit every water adventurer’s needs, choosing whether to invest in a single or double kayak can be a tough decision.
If you’re ready to make the investment, I think single kayaks are the way to go for most recreational paddlers for a number of reasons. No matter the construct, they’re more portable and much easier to maneuver for both beginners and experts – not to mention less expensive. Expert kayakers can choose a sleeker model built for nimble paddling, and beginners can choose a larger one with a bit more stability for a variety of water conditions. There really is a model for everyone. Above all else, single kayaks offer the ultimate freedom to choose where you to want to go and when without hassle.
Of course, everyone has different preferences and goals for kayaking, and choosing the right type can totally affect your experience on the water. Let’s take a look at the two common types of kayaks and the factors to consider with each.
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Benefits of a 2-Person or Tandem Kayak
Tandem kayaks hold two, sometimes three, people in the cockpit and are therefore longer, bulkier and heavier – attributes that actually make the boat more stable. They allow for a more sociable day for two people together on the water, but are equally great for a solo paddler requiring extra space for lots of gear.
Pros of a Tandem Kayak
An obvious advantage to tandem kayaking is that two people can share the fun and labor of paddling on a pretty stable vessel. This is particularly beneficial for novices, especially children, to get the hang of paddling in the front seat of the craft while someone stronger or more experienced guides the boat from the rear. If you anticipate frequent adventures with kids who may tire easily, I’d definitely recommend a double kayak.
If you have a reliable tandem partner, a double kayak could be a better investment, particularly if you’ve mastered the art of synchronized paddling and anticipate kayaking together more often than not. Even if you’re not quite an expert yet, I have to admit that tandem kayaks provide the added benefit of letting one paddler rest if fatigued while the other keeps the boat on course.
Tandem kayaks can also be used solo provided you load the front seat with gear as a counter-weight for stability. If you’re an avid kayaker who enjoys long days on the water that require extra equipment or supplies, the roominess of a double kayak might make for a better choice to store more gear. You could even bring your dog!
Cons of a Tandem Kayak
As a 5’4’’ female, for me the obvious downside to a tandem kayak is its bulkiness. It can be burdensome to lift even a single kayak from its rack, carry it to the shore, and then pull it back out after a day on the water. Kayaks obviously vary in weight by brand and material, but tandem kayaks average about 30 pounds heavier than singles! Keep this in mind if you plan on launching alone. The additional weight may also prohibit you from exploring shallower waters.
I also find tandem kayaks frustrating to navigate if I’m not in sync with my paddling partner. Maintaining forward momentum requires strong communication and similar paddle strength. Without both, you may end up paddling in circles or stuck in limbo until you’ve gotten a few voyages under your belt together. Even as a strong paddler, I find steering a tandem kayak on my own to be a bit too clumsy for my liking.
Last, investing in a double kayak also means investing in more accessories. The cost of an extra paddle and life vest may be a deterrent to some.
The verdict: Double kayaks are more stable, but are best reserved for families or kayaking regulars who need the additional storage and don’t mind the bulk.
Benefits of a Single Kayak
Single kayaks offer the most versatility for recreational use. They’re easier to transport and navigate, and offer you total freedom to be the captain of your own ship, even when out with others.
Pros of a Single Kayak
Personally, once I’ve decided to head on an outdoor adventure, convenience is a big factor in how I choose to spend that time. If I’ve chosen to go kayaking, I don’t want to have to rely on a second set of hands to get moving. Single kayaks are simply easier to handle in every way for someone solo. They are much lighter for one person to carry, take up less space, and aren’t as cumbersome to haul from storage to shore.
When you’ve finally made it afloat, single kayaks glide through the water faster and are much easier to maneuver in most conditions. You can also course-correct quickly to avoid an obstacle without having to first worry about synchronizing movements with your partner.
I think the best advantage to single kayaks is that you have autonomy to pick up the pace (or take it easy) and explore as you see fit, even if you’re with a group of other kayakers. I like that I can venture out with friends but still maintain some independence if, for example, they want to head back in to shore before I do.
Cons of a Single Kayak
It goes without saying that because single kayaks are lighter and narrower than double kayaks, they are therefore less stable. Inexperienced kayakers risk capsizing more easily, particularly in choppy water or when disembarking, but I don’t necessarily think this should be a major deterrent from choosing one since you should always exercise safety precautions no matter your skill level.
The smaller size of a single kayak also limits the amount of gear you can bring on your trip, but again, with proper planning I really don’t think this should hinder how much you enjoy your excursion.
The verdict: No matter how you anticipate spending most of your time in the yak, single kayaks are the way to go because of their versatility. The benefits far outweigh the cons.
At the end of the day, you should absolutely rent kayaks in both styles and with different paddling companions before choosing to spend money on one (or two). Don’t forget to consider your skill level and the circumstances you’ll most often be kayaking under when deciding between a tandem vs. single. No matter which size you choose, it’ll be hard to regret the decision to invest in more time out on the water!
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